Date: Unknown (log received February 26, 2016)
In an effort to alleviate some financial pressures, Ayumu and Ei travel far to the north of the Land of Wind, seeking among the infamous Dead Sands the fortunes of the former's long dead captors. Memories are relived as they delve deeper and deeper into the makeshift tomb until at last they reach their destination.
Dead Sands - Northern Desert [Land of Wind]
Dead Sands is a section of the Land of Wind that was once a fertile farm-land. It was devastated by the Clan Wars, with many great conflicts between ninja Clans ruining all potential for life for over a hundred square miles. In the present, it is a region full of dust and dirt, intermixed with the sands of the neighboring areas of the desert. The remains of over one-million people, primarily helpless civilians, have been interred into the wastes by the constant, driving wind storms that gave the Land of Wind its name. It is, in essence, a permanent 'dustbowl' crossed with a sandstorm.
So many dead have been left here that even being covered by the earth, there are enough bones and dessicated corpses to form small mountains. The bleached bones are covered and exposed, over and over, giving no rest to the dead. It is no surprise, then, that there are countless and frequent stories of ghost sightings in the Dead Sands by those who have to trek through here to reach the Land of Stones. However, this is the single most inhospitable locale in the entire country, and thus the Desert of Knives, with all its banditry and long, winding caravan trails, is usually preferred over the Dead Sands despite being a shorter trip.
The Desert of Knives lies to the east. The border between the Land of Wind and the Land of Stones lies to the north, and to the south is the inhospitable Northern Desert, and the travel routes that lead towards the capital of the Wind Country.
Rather than the usual downpour that would render traveling through the desert an even more daunting trial than on a simply hot day, Rain falls gently from pale-grey clouds which fill the sky. Walking through this weather remains a trying task; but undaunted, Ayumu presses on along with Ei. Whether or not she accepted the offer made minutes before the rain swept in to be carried the rest of the way would determine just slow their pace may be. Ayumu was more than accustomed to such conditions, so his pace — hampered though it was — would remain ultimately unaltered by much, with or without her on his back. He offers only once. Afterwards, she is left to her own devices, but not without earning a look of admiration from the red-haired rogue.
Hours pass without the rain letting up, or their destination becoming clear. If prodded on the subject on how much further, Ayumu would answer only with "A ways still" quite calmly. At the very least, the duo have managed to cover quite a distance since leaving Sunagakure only scarcely a day ago. A feat in itself consider they had to travel through the notorious Desert of Knives. Naturally, the Iga failed to warn of this of course, believing perhaps that Ei has spent more than enough time in the Land of Wind to know of as much, if only in passing.
Long, dreary hours later later pass before the rain stop. Its timing could not have been more convenient, for the duo found themselves atop a dune, staring into a large bowl-like stretch of muddied earth. At its center and just vaguely possible to make out from a distance seems to be a structure of some sort that has been long since abandoned.
Ei had declined to be carried, thinking it would be far too selfish of her to let him use up all his energy like that. She was sure he could do it, but… so can she. She trudges along with him, having adorned one of her shorter kimono to better traverse with. She only asked once how much farther and heaved a sigh at his answer. It was one of tiredness more than frustration, but she just kept going. Of course she knew of that stretch of desert and that's why she had asked how much farther. Once she was aware they'd be going through it, she had felt a little bit of dread, but she was with him and didn't let it get to her too badly. As the rain lets up, she gazes up toward the sky before looking over the desert before them and then back to him. "… Does someone still stay here?" There's disbelief in her voice, but not surprise. He knew some peculiar people…
Her mood was not unknown to him. Ever since his latest slip up, Ayumu made a point of keeping a closer eye to it. Sure, such a mental promise was made in the past, but only now did he truly possess the discipline to accomplish the task without straining himself too much. The only distraction he found powerful enough to destabilize his focus came in the form of a reminder of what they had to leave behind for the journey. Ayumu trusted his grandmother and Shun to keep an eye on Miyu. The same could not be said entirely of the rest of his family, Asashi or no Asashi holding the reigns. Worst yet, he carried with him the unmistakable feeling of having forgotten something important. Something to do with his last mission, and… vital information?
"No… at least, there should be noone there now. Only my… employers were brave enough to go a step further than their more superstitious competitors by chosing the edge of the Dead Sands as their home." He admits, cracking a wry grin despite delivering openly another haymaker. The dreaded Dead Sands. The only stretch of desert very few would even dare to think cross under even the most extreme circumstances. It may be at that point that Ei might notice more than just the building in the distance. How they had gone missed is anyones guess. But looking more closely at the surrounding landscape, the thankfully only skeletal remains of long dead people and other creatures can just be made out with enough focus covering the entire stretch. If Ei were to go a step further than that and wonder why the last dune felt more solid beneath her feet, pressing or shifting the sand about too much would reveal even more remains. The type, unfortunately, that was mysteriously either more well-preserved or recently left behind by someone.
Ei blinks at that and then just lowers her eyebrows, squinting slightly at everything before she gazes at him pointedly. "Then… what are we doing here, exactly?" The journey, from her memory, had something to do with their daughter's dress for the wedding. Maybe it had reminded him of something unrelated, which led them here. That was possible, but the green-haired woman really can't see how good cloth could be in this place… Especially as she tries to ignore the remains beneath her feet. Licking her lips slightly, she looks at Ayumu with a hard gaze.
"Either wasting a good deal of time, or digging up an inheritance of sorts." Ayumu admits nonchalantly. "That's assuming no other jackals got to it first of course… But I doubt it. There aren't that many folks that would be sensitive enough to find it even if they knew about it… It almost funny in a way." Unless given reason to linger further, Ayumu doesn't waste another second before striding closer to the long abandon building, judging by the lack of activity around it anyways. Nothing short of interference from Ei would break his stride once the man is in motion. Brittle bone snapping softly beneath bare feet every now and then certainly doesn't slow him down in the least.
"You know, its been at least fourteen years since I've last been here? No, longer than that actually I think, though it feels like less…. They helped me make a name for myself though." He rambles after awhile, absently marching at that point.
The woman watches him move on and calls after, "Sometimes I truly wonder about your sense of humor." Then Ei is following after him, keeping stride with him as best she can. It's a task to ignore the snapping bones and the feel of them — twig-like, but different — beneath her shoes. As he speaks up, she raises her brows curiously. "They helped you make a name, but… were slavers? I seriously think, at times, that you are a fairy-tale character come to life. Your life is just so bizarre it's hard to believe it all actually happened." She chuckles softly underbreath.
The red-haired wanderer found himself grinning despite other competing feelings resting just beneath the surface. "As I like to say my dear, its all a matter of perspective. If were to have lived through a small portion of the life I have so far, would you not choose to play the part of a fairy-tale than the atypical for reality for the sake of holding onto a certain appreciation for life?" He asks idly, and still nonchalantly. His words however conveyed a message that has been made all too clear over the years by now. In the end, a simple reminder that Ayumu eccentricism may be less a quirk of birth, but instead an unfortunate necessity of the mad.
He does not give his words long to simmer in mind before lifting and turning his head towards her. "But yes, in a fashion they did. Or at the very least, when bereft of certain options, they taught me the means to do so for myself."
The woman smiles at him softly and nods her head a little. Of course, she had always thought him a little deranged, but it was part of what made her love him, strange as that sounds. His quirks, no matter the reason, brought about her curiosity and her curiosity was usually rewarded in ways, such as this. Learning that he'd been a slave… that he'd learned so much from that time in his life that he was grateful for it, of all things. One could call it insanity, but the fact remained that he tended to err on the more optimistic side of things. She knew his mind was full of pessimism, too, but for him to make the choice to voice the optimism meant a lot to her. "Okay, so one of your teaching places… Where is this 'inheritance' you speak of? You remember exactly or just the area?"
"Better to err on the side of caution, and say that I know the area. As much as I would like to believe that the desert isn't quite that voracious, one should never truly underestimate the strength of mother nature… or her whimsy, for that matter." He says. It is by that point they have walked far enough along for what seemed little more than a speck from a distance was now obviously the decrepit remains of a rather large complex. Strange how that happened, one might say, considering they could not have been walking for more than a few minutes.
Unbothered, or at least apathetic to the sensation, Ayumu briskly proceeds inside after pushing aside a door that barely looked and sounded as if its hinges would hold on for that much longer. With the exception of beams of the rare beam of light trickling in from the ceiling, the hallway was all but completely dark from standing just outside the door. If Ei hesitated there for whatever reason, the shadowed figure that was Ayumu at the time would stop and look back, regarding her with a look of confusion.
To hesitate now would be understandable. Between the shrinking of distance, the field of bones, and now growing sense of trepidation that the building's interior seemed to exude, who but the made or the ridiculously brave would tread further without hesitation?
Ei had nodded to him but then paused at the oddity of suddenly becoming so close. Her brows furrow as she looks at the building… the door he opens, and the darkness inside. She gazes at it for a moment before she looks at the shadowy figure of Ayumu and steps forward. It was certainly unnerving, but she had him there with her and wouldn't let herself be stopped from going with him. "Quite the place," she murmurs at him, gazing around to see anything she can actually view with the trickle of light from the ceiling. (re)
Once Ei has decided to join him, Ayumu quietly takes her hand and lingers at the entrance. Whereas first he seemed to have not paid the transition from bright to dim lighting, the man remained in place largely to give Ei's eyes time to truly adjust. A long hallway stretched before the duo, disappearing into darkness at its presumed far end. Though the floor was covered in sand and the rare bit of rubbish blown in presumable from the outside world, the walls within are surprisingly still very much smooth and durable, almost as if they were freshly put in.
Either due to some silent cue or unspoken experience, Ayumu begins moving along after Ei's eyes have fully adjusted. "Say what you will of the frugal and the amoral, they do have an eye for making the most of everything don't they?" He finally comments. "Or at least, something like that. I've only really had the one experience." Light passes over them sparingly during the short journey, enhancing the eireeness of the place. Fortunately as they drew closer to the darker end of the hallway, there seemed to be more light awaiting just around the corner. Several, in fact, for the first intersection is a cross shape. Ayumu doesn't hesitate for a moment to draw Ei around the left bend, ignoring what from a passing glance into its opposing hallway to be a great, black carapace.
Ei took his hand and smiled softly, unsure why they were still standing at the entrance. She didn't know where they were going, anyway, so sight on her part is all but pointless. The woman hums softly at the places she can see before following along as he decides to start their journey into the eerie place. She offers a grin at his words, nodding her head. "It is usually the worse off that find ways to make do," she murmurs. For a reason she doesn't know or even seem to realize, she feels the need to whisper or at least speak quieter in the darkness. As they take a left, she does glance toward the other directions they could have gone and frowns lightly at the appearance of the right hallway. Yes, that… doesn't seem very welcoming at all, she thinks but doesn't hesitate as she follows after him. Her hand clutches his, not squeezing terribly hard but holding on very adamantly.
Welcoming or not, the duo's luck continues to hold out in that the source of the glimpse either took no notice, or was just a matter of paranoia playing tricks on the mind. Ayumu doesn't comment, or appears to even mind what may have been a close call. Curiosity, however, inevitably prompts the Iga to turn his head a ways back. A gesture those with working sight would take as someone looking back at something.
He opens his mouth once, hesitate for a moment, then starts again with, "Aye. If for no other reason than to spite the world or what it has thrown at them. A lovely aspect we humans have, though perhaps not entirely our shiniest quality." He chuckles half-heartedly and shakes his head. Unbeknownst to the Iga and unlike Ei, he showed less restraint in hiding his nerves so long as their hands remain entwined. Before he can babble any further on the matter, Ayumu draws to a stop at a much larger intersection. At its center and appearing not unlike some sort of well at first glance is giant hole.
Ayumu… gives not even the slightest indication of intent to approach it. He just stands there, grip tightening slightly, and brows furrowing in deep thought. Even if Ei were to choose to go closer for whatever reason, Ayumu would remain steadfast in straying no more than the five feet that he originally stopped at.
The woman could tell something was off, but she doesn't question it in the slightest. She simply continues on with him, chuckling at his words just as he had, and then blinking when they suddenly stop. Ei looks at him quizzically before gazing ahead, at the hole, and then back to him. She could certainly understand why it would cause him to halt as it had, but… could they not get around it? Was it not even supposed to be there? The woman turns her gaze to stare at the odd bit of… lack of floor before she murmurs, "Did it collapse…? Was it not this way the last time you came through?" She says it quietly, not wanting to disturb the increasingly terrifying aura of the place for fear it might become more so in an instant.
Silence is the only answer. Silence and stillness from the man for at least a minute or so before it is finally broken by a sharp intake of air. "N-no… It… I actually allowed myself to forget about it." He explains, and following a faint effort to smile, the Iga strode closer to the hole. Even before one stands before its edge, the feeling of treading far too closely to a void pervades the senses. Staring down into it only amplifies the effect, but Ayumu remains persistent to the end. In the process, a few loose bits of sand and bone fragments is kicked into the hole.
Nearly ten minutes pass before one can catch the faintest hint of both hitting the ground floor. He waited nearly half as long, clearly debating something given his expression throughout the entire time, no matter how hard he tried hiding behind his usual carefree fox mask. "This was one of their takes for what a proper punishment should be. A deep, dark hole in the middle of nowhere… They lined it with something to make it difficult to leave it, even for a ninja… difficult to even hear yourself breath sometimes." He cracks wry grin. "But you know what the best part was?"
Ei's brows furrow at his demeanor. Few things rattled her wily fennec as much as this did, and she knew it was a terrible thing from that. Thus, she stayed by him, not straying even an inch from his side as she held his hand. She didn't squeeze it, didn't try to snap him out, just waited for that small gasp. When he says he allowed himself to forget, she raises her brows slightly. Following him, she gazes down and an expression of disgust settles on her face as he explains. At the last question, she gazes at him with a look that mildly says 'you shouldn't make it into a joke' but she allows him the answer, asking, "What was that…?"
Ayumu opens his mouth, and then… nothing. It could be that he sensed Ei's look, and thought better of speaking further on the matter. It may even be possible that whatever words he meant to say simply died in his throat. Regardless of what the case may be, Ayumu simply shakes his head lightly before his fiancee along behind him around the makeshift "well". The rest of the journey through the complex is one taken in silence unless Ei decides to speak up at any time. Whatever shield of levity the Iga usually carried about with him was — or at least, seemed to have been — discarded at the well.
Several twists and turns are made along the way with the few obstacles in their path being the rare completely caved in or sunken path, diminishing light, and a length of time that may make one wonder just how such a small set-up on the outside seemed so large now. Several opportunities for detours come and go without comment from the Iga without some so sort of prompting to goad him. At last, Ayumu draws to a stop before a large set of stone doors, out of place compared to everything up until ths point. (re)
Ei frowns softly at his lack of answer, but she doesn't press him for answers. She stays quiet, attentive (as well as she can) and just wonders about him. The "detours" she ignores. She doesn't know where they're going so really, everything and nothing is a detour. When finally they stop before the doors, she blinks at them… With a questioning glance toward him, she has to wonder where he's led her… "So what now…? Is it trapped?" For all she knew, there could be a specially-constructed chakra-wire network throughout it which would shock any who touched it… or something more simple: a hidden contraption to fire weapons out of the walls. Whatever it was, she wasn't interested in activating it by accident.
After a moment of silence, Ayumu simply shakes his head before moving closer to the door. “… No. No traps or alarms. At least, not in the strictest terms. I… may have had a hand in curbing their interest there. Me and Papa Kuma that is. “Ayumu explains with the faintest of smiles touching his lips as his hands touched down on doors. Although the door groans and grinds slightly against the ground as one might expect out of a thick stone door, the Iga hardly seems to put any effort into forcing the blockade apart.
A measure of the man’s strength, or simply the trick behind the trap-that’s-not-a-trap-door?
Whatever the reason may be, in a few moments the door are open more than wide enough for the duo to walk side by side into the chamber comfortably should they choose. Ayumu, however, lingers at the threshold, seeming to glance back and forth along the ground from the hallway and the room. Ei is left largely to her own devices during this time. Even if she should stay outside, there is plenty to see through the dim lighting provided from both the hallway and few decayed spots in the roof. What lay beyond the door is the remains of what appeared to be some sort of sitting room that — despite the obvious holes in the ceiling — weathered better the test of neglect than the rest of the complex. Eventually, the Iga steps inside for himself, scarcely taking note of a pile of ornate pillows along one wall, or even the giant, dust covered painting of two men dressed in finery fit for sultans on the opposite wall. His concern — his singular focus was a pair of potted plants right across from the door. "If it were a snake…" Ayumu murmured at one point in passing. Taking one of the sharpened staffs usually hidden up his sleeves, Ayumu pried loose what a glance seemed to be another part of the rug just between the plants, but in fact was stone meticulously painted to appear like its surrounding. Sea green eyes open wide as the stone square gives without effort, then narrow into pin pricks. "Over here, Ei." He said, casting aside the square before reaching into the newly revealed cache
Instead of some sort of treasure box, spectacular gems, or monetary notes, the only thing Ayumu's fishing hand finds is a single letter. Ayumu holds it up to his nose and breathe deep. Shock again registers briefly on the Iga's nose, though it is what Ei reads to him once he passes it over that leaves the man truly silent for a time. The duo are able to leave the complex without incident, leaving behind a burning note set ablaze by Ayumu. Someone unknown to the Iga sought to play a game. One that — with a smile he hoped assuaged his fiancee's concern for him and the situation — is rejected outright…